Sunday, August 25, 2013

Sub plots to the fore as Mourinho comes to Old Trafford

It is only 3 points that are up for grabs on Monday night for ManU and Chelsea. Much of the talk however will invariably centre around a few choice individuals as the current champions face up to the newly restored pretenders.

Jose Mourinho is back in the dugout at Stamford Bridge and whilst in many ways it might feel like nothing has changed. The reality is that nearly everything has changed including the adversary in the Reds' dugout - but has Mourinho changed?

Mourinho has talked of a new maturity coming with age since his return to the Premiership, of setting an example to the younger managers in the league. At the outset it sounds a hugely benevolent gesture but one suspects as ever with Jose that there is something far more machiavellian at the heart of it.

Paul Lambert was the first victim on Wednesday night where he was damned with feint praise by Mourinho who talked of what a fine young manager he was and how he too was angry and misled at Lambert's age and level of inexperience. Jose Mourinho is 50 years old and Lambert is 44 we would point out.

Next in the cross hairs on Friday was Spurs and AVB. The Willian transfer hijack appealed to Mourinho hugely even if Chelsea don't really need the player. Mourinho could barely hide his glee at the ire of Spurs and a wise crack about the player's medical was met with much mirth by all.

Mourinho was very smart first time around in England. He knew that taking on Sir Alex Ferguson head on was akin to suicide. Instead Mourinho introduced a policy of being deferential publicly at every opportunity to Ferguson whilst talking up their great friendship.

At the same time, Mourinho did pick fights with the two managers Ferguson had the biggest issues with, Rafa Benitez and Arsene Wenger. The mind games were unleashed on two of Chelsea's biggest rivals whilst remaining safe for the main part from the gunsights of Ferguson.

Mourinho has also talked about other managers that have worked for him such as Brendan Rodgers, AVB (although their relationship has broken down) and Steve Clarke and how it is great to see them progressing in their own managerial careers having flown the nest.

Mourinho it seems is attempting to set himself up as the 'overlord' of managers in the Premiership - Steve Bruce was nearly wetting himself fawning over Mourinho in his post match interviews last weekend - and it is the smart play.

Arsene Wenger will of course ignore him as he seems to ignore most of the other managers and one can't imagine Manuel Pellegrini getting too excited either. The most interesting reaction however is going to come from a Glasgwegian again.

Davie Moyes has it all to do it seems following Britain's greatest ever domestic manager. He has not ever won a trophy, his squad is allegedly poor and only won the league so easily because of the implosion of their rivals and the immense skill and drive of Ferguson.

ManU have done nothing fresh in the transfer market after integrating the previously bought Wilfred Zaha. Rumours of big names have floated around and Moyes has even managed to upset his previously employers Everton along the way.

In the midst of this however, ManU routinely won the Charity Shield (against poor opposition yes) and then went to Swansea - far from an easy place to go - and thumped the home side 4-1 with normal service apparently very much resumed.

Moyes and Ferguson share much more than a thick accent and a lurking sense of physical violence, they are both shrewd, highly intelligent football men who enjoy the mind games as much as anyone. Moyes always stood up to Ferguson and he will undoubtedly do the same with Mourinho.

Moyes has already engaged Mourinho through the press stating how much he likes him and how he is looking forward to seeing him again at Old Trafford. He hardly sounds like a man who is in anyway intimidated.

Where Moyes will have to learn fast is tactically at the top level. His team are undoubtedly good enough to win every week against most clubs in the league but Europe - where Moyes is a relative novice - and top of the table clashes are going to be new to him. Mourinho's record at Old Trafford is excellent but Moyes' record against Chelsea isn't too bad either one should note.

The other huge sub plot is of course that of Wayne Rooney and intriguingly the possibility of Juan Mata moving in the opposite direction.

Moyes has stated that he is looking to play Rooney from the start against Chelsea and it would be indeed a strong signal that 'he is our player'. There is none of the injury nonsense we have seen from Gareth Bale or signs of the nervous breakdown that seems to be afflicting Johan Cabaye.

The Rooney transfer is in many ways more about Mourinho and Moyes than it is about Wayne Rooney himself. It's unlikely that Mourinho would have hatched this bid had Ferguson still been at the helm unless Rooney had issued a formal transfer request.

Mourinho is clearly trying to establish himself as the top dog in the league and Moyes must be feeling that he has to see the matter off to his own satisfaction.

It may well be that ManU would feel that Mata (a younger and statistically more effective player than Rooney) plus cash and Rooney's wages off the books would be a fine deal and it would be hard to argue with that but the bigger issue may be that it is Chelsea who are the predator here.

Arsenal on the face of it got by the far the better end of the William Gallas plus cash deal for Ashley Cole but we can all see the directions the clubs have taken since then.

Mourinho has been at pains to tell everyone that Chelsea will not make a third bid for Rooney until after the game which is the same as bidding for the player before the game except we're just not quite sure that the price is yet.

With Moyes and Mourinho both starting fresh at two clubs that will undoubtedly challenge for the next few years, the jostling for position at the outset is paramount as it is going to set the tone for the many clashes that are sure to come.

In amongst all of this, there will be 90 minutes of football to be played of course. A draw we reckon - No Nonsense.